Friday, September 11, 2009

Death Caps by Sandy Semerad

The pain of seeing Rosy looking small and defenseless behind the defense table in Judge Clinton Biggs criminal court hurts like a bullet in the chest.

She’s wearing a dark grey suit with her long blonde hair pulled back in what she calls, “a French twist.”

I’d give my life to free her from this nightmare. To date, I’ve used every legal resource at my disposal as sheriff of this county.

I even cashed in my savings for her bail money. Rosy has no idea I did this. No one knows except Father Windford, the priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal.

Father Windford gathered a group of his congregation together to post bail. Their show of support made the front page of The Daily Sun, where Rosy used to work as news editor.

Most everyone in the community thinks she’s innocent, except Michael Hofstadter’s friends and family and Prosecutor Sammy Prescott, who continues to milk the media circus outside.

“It’s a bum wrap and you know it,” I told Sammy before he won the indictment. Rosy could never kill anyone.”

Sammy responded with the same old worn out cliché I used back when I found out my wife, now ex-wife was cheating on me.

“Love is blind,” he said. “I have it on authority that Rosemary not only poisoned her husband with mushrooms grown in her own back yard, but she also killed her first husband and made it look like an accident.”

“That’s a lie,” I said. I’d heard the truth from Rosy and her grown daughter Candy about what happened to Rosy’s first husband, who was Candy’s father.

Apparently he was an alcoholic and addicted to prescription drugs, a fatal combination. No surprise he passed out in the Jacuzzi and drowned. Rosy and Candy found his body the next morning.

As to the charge that Rosy meant to poison her husband Michael Hofstadter with mushrooms she picked from her yard and cooked in his beef stroganoff, I say preposterous. Rosy is a smart woman, but she can’t discern one mushroom from another.

Rosy turns to smile at me now, and Judge Clinton Biggs shoots me an evil eye as if he knows how I feel about her. In my opinion, Biggs should not be allowed to sit in judgment at Rosy’s trial. Reason being, Hofstadter became the champion of the overweight with his documentary called, My Fat is not who I am, and his Honor weighs four hundred pounds.

I shiver when I watch Mary Lee—Michael Hofstadter’s grown daughter being sworn in. Even before Sammy can ask his first question, Mary Lee blurts out, “Daddy was a loving and generous man, and she killed him.” She then stabs a finger at Rosy who shakes her head, sadly.

Rosy’s attorney, Darrell Lincoln, shoots up out of his chair. “Objection, your honor. That’s opinion, not evidentiary.”

I’m hoping to hell this jury of Rosy’s peers understands the significance of “not evidentiary.” Lincoln is somewhat of a blue blood and likes to spout ten-dollar words when five-cent ones would serve better. No surprise, everyone calls Lincoln by his last name, including his wife and mama.

Judge Biggs, known as “The big judge, who loves to hammer the gavel when he speaks,” yells, “sustained” and hammers the gavel.

Sammy gives a sobbing Mary Lee a tissue. She looks likes a lost orphan, and I’d feel sorry for her if I didn’t know she was the biggest kleptomaniac in this county.

I’m hoping the jurors are privy to Mary Lee’s background, but regardless, the tragedy of Mary Lee’s accusation against Rosy can never be erased from the jury’s memory.

As Hofstadter’s only offspring, Mary Lee is in line, after Rosy, to inherit everything: the multi-million-dollar life insurance payout and all of Hofstadter’s property and film residuals, which knowing Rosy, she would have gladly shared with Mary Lee.

Finally, it’s Lincoln’s turn to question Mary Lee. He approaches the witness stand, smiling sympathetically, probably thinking Mary Lee can’t help but smile back, and it turns out he’s right.

Before Lincoln took Rosy’s case, he represented an elderly man who fell on a banana peel in a grocery store and broke his hip. Lincoln won a ten-million-dollar judgment.

Lincoln runs a hand through his blonde hair. Some say he looks like the actor Michael Douglas.
“Ms. Hofstadter, the night your daddy died, he and Rosemary had a luncheon party at their home, is that right?” Lincoln asked, smiling.

“Yes, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

“Ms. Hofstadter, to make this as painless for you as possible, you need only answer yes or no.” Lincoln flashes a wider smile, showing his unnaturally white teeth.

Mary Lee pouts. “I did.”

Lincoln nods at Mary Lee and then faces the jury. “Those who attended the lunch were asked to bring a dish, because it was pot luck, isn’t that right?”

Mary Lee glances at the judge as if he’d asked the question. “I’m not sure what kind of a thing it was.”

Lincoln walks to the jury well. “Your honor, please instruct the witness to answer the question yes or no.”

“I’m trying, your honor.” Mary Lee gives Biggs her wide-eyed, Betty Boop stare.

“She’s trying,” Biggs says. A few in the courtroom chuckle along with two members of the jury: Owen Taylor, a black teacher at the high school and Faye Nell Krause, a nurse at the hospital.

Biggs hammers the gavel. “Try harder. Okay, Mary Lee? Please repeat the question, Counsel.”

“Isn’t it true that everyone invited to the luncheon at your daddy and Rosemary’s house the day your daddy died was asked to bring a dish?”

“I wasn’t asked to bring one.”

Lincoln sighs. “Your honor, please, instruct the witness to answer the question yes or no.”

Biggs widens his eyes at Mary Lee. “Can you answer that question ‘yes’ or ‘no’?” He hammers the gavel.

“I’m not sure, your honor.”

“You heard her, Counsel.” Biggs pounds the gavel. “She’s not sure. Can we move on or can you rephrase the question?”

“Yes, your honor. Okay, Ms. Hofstadter, did you see guests bring in food to the luncheon held the day your daddy died?”

“I suppose so.”

“Answer yes or no, please.”


“And would you agree that when guests bring a dish to a get together this is traditionally known as pot luck?”

“I guess.”

“Yes or no.”

“Okay, yes, but I don’t see…”

“And wouldn’t you also agree that someone at the luncheon, and that includes you, might have brought into the house the poisonous mushrooms that the prosecution claims killed your daddy?”

“Objection,” Sammy calls out.

“I’ll answer that your honor,” Mary Lee said. She seems composed while glaring at Rosy.

“Rosemary was the one who cooked the beef stroganoff.”

Mary Lee turns herself toward the jury. “Daddy was hungry. He hadn’t eaten much that day. You see, he was forced to eat small portions, because of his stomach stapling surgery. He’d lost close to a hundred pounds in just a few months.”

Lincoln leans toward Mary Lee, his white-knuckled hands gripping the sides of the witness stand. “Ms. Hofstadter, please stick to the question. Now, I’m going to try again, and I would appreciate it very much if you would answer yes or no.”

Mary Lee nods in agreement.

“Your daddy and Rosemary had a pot luck lunch and guests brought in food. That we have agreed upon. Isn’t it possible that anyone attending the luncheon could have brought those poisonous mushrooms into that house?”

Mary Lee shrugs her shoulders while shaking her head, no.

“Even you, Mary Lee Hofstadter, could have brought the poisonous mushroom into the house, which makes me wonder why you didn’t eat any of the beef stroganoff. Is it because you’ll gain financially from your daddy’s death if Rosemary is found guilty?”

Sammy stands. “Objection, your Honor.”

Lincoln points at Rosy. “Rosemary Hofstadter is a vegetarian, but you are not. So, why didn’t you eat the beef stroganoff, Mary Lee?”

Sammy hops up and down as if he’s on a trampoline. “Objection, objection. Defense counsel is badgering this young woman, persecuting her when she’s not the one on trial.”

With Bigg's face looking almost as red as Lincoln’s tie, he hammers his gavel with such force his jowls shake. “Lincoln, one more outburst before I’ve had a chance to rule, and I’ll hold you in contempt.”

“Sorry, your honor,” Lincoln says. “I have no further questions for this witness.”

“I hate beef stroganoff,” Mary Lee says, storming off.

Next up is Michael Hofstadter’s former mistress, a budding actress who reminds me of one of the blonde models I’ve seen in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue, only this gal, Ginger Pandino doesn’t appear to have any secrets. She’s wearing a black, slip-looking thingy that could double as a nightgown.

As if on cue, Ginger Pandino dabs at her swollen eyes and swears to tell the “whole truth and nothing but.”

Sammy walks up, looking sympathetic as if Ginger is the real widow here. I’m surprised Sammy didn’t ask Ginger to dress more conservatively, but maybe he thinks her revealing attire will present the strongest possible motive to the jury. “How long have you known the deceased Michael Hofstadter?”

Ginger wipes her eyes. “We had been dating off and on for…oh…ten years.”

Sammy turns on his heels to stare at Rosy. “Are you saying you started dating him before he met and married the defendant?”

“Yes. I was in the first documentary Michael did. It was on date rape, filmed at UCLA. I was a freshman at the time.”

“Did you love Michael Hofstadter?”

“Yes,” she sobs, “very much.”

“Did the two of you ever talk about getting married?”

“He wanted to back then, but I was the age of his daughter and my folks didn’t approve. So, I married a guy they did approve of, but it didn’t work out.”

The large woman in front of me says, “Hussy,” loud enough to be heard.

Biggs glances in her direction and hammers his gavel. “Be quiet or remove yourself.”

Sammy continues unfazed. “So you’re saying your first marriage ended in divorce, is that right?”

“Yes, and I needed a job to support myself so I asked Michael if he had any work for me to do.”

Sammy points to Rosy. “Was he married to the defendant at that time?”


“And did Michael Hofstadter give you a job?”

“Yes, I became his assistant.”

“How would you describe your relationship?”

“I fought my feelings as he did, but our love was too strong, and he eventually told me he would ask his wife for a divorce.”

Rosy whispers something to Lincoln. He whispers back. Rosy shakes her head, no.

“And did Michael Hofstadter ask his wife for a divorce?”

Lincoln jumps up. “Hearsay, your honor.”

Biggs hammers his gavel. “I’ll allow it as to what Mr. Hofstadter told this witness.”

“I’ll rephrase your honor. Ms. Pandino, did Michael Hofstadter tell you he asked his wife, the defendant, for a divorce?”

“Yes. Michael said she was furious and told him that the prenuptial she signed wasn’t worth the weeds in his garden.”

“Objection,” Lincoln says, his face turning white. “Hearsay.”

“No further questions, your honor,” Sammy says, smiling.

Now, it’s Lincoln’s turn. He appears nervous in the presence of this Barbie femme fatale. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was taken with her. I’ve never seen him flash a bigger smile.

“Ms. Pandino, what if I told you that Michael Hofstadter’s wife, Rosemary, honestly believed her husband was true to her? She believed him when he told her he was intimate with only her. She believed him when he said he loved only her. And she is prepared to testify to that in this courtroom.”

Sammy stood. “Conjecture and improper questioning of this witness, your honor.”

“Sustained.” Biggs hammers the gavel. “If the defendant is prepared to testify then let her.”

Lincoln tries again. “Ms. Pandino, you have admitted you entered into an adulterous affair with Mr. Hofstadter, is that correct?”

“He was married and I knew it and I dated him anyway. That is true. I let my heart rule my head, but I eventually told Michael if he loved me the way I loved him he should get a divorce, and until Michael actually took that step I told him I wasn’t going to see him anymore. So, I broke it off until the night Michael assured me he had asked his wife for a divorce.”

“How many months did you have an affair with Michael Hofstadter before you broke it off?”
Ginger sighs and closes her eyes. “I don’t know. As I said, I dated him way back when I was at UCLA.”

“I know, but I need you to tell this court how many months you had an affair with Hofstadter while he was married to his wife, Rosemary?”

“Six months maybe.”

“It took you six months to realize you were doing the wrong thing by entering into an adulterous affair with a married man, six months, before you all of a sudden decided to break off your relationship with him unless he got a divorce. Come now, Ms. Pandino, do you expect this court to believe you?”

Sammy raises his arms above his head like a winning fighter. “Objection, your honor. Counsel is badgering this witness. She has already testified to her relationship with the victim, Michael Hoftstader.”

Biggs hammers the gavel. “Sustained, move on, Lincoln. If you don’t have anything new to offer, please conclude with this witness.”

“One last question, your honor. Ms. Pandino, did you actually hear Michael Hofstadter ask his wife Rosemary for a divorce?”

“No, Mr. Lincoln, but he recounted the conversation to me, and knowing him as well as I did, I knew he was telling me the truth.”

“So, what you’re saying is, Michael Hofstadter told you he asked his wife for a divorce. You didn’t actually hear him ask her, and he didn’t actually swear on a Bible that he asked his wife for a divorce, isn’t that right?”

Sammy huffs like a quackless duck. “Objection, your honor, the defendant has already answered that question.”

Biggs hammers his gavel. “Sustained.”

Lincoln, with hands on his hips, says, “Who knows? Maybe you actually did believe Michael Hofstadter was telling you the truth, Ms. Pandino. His wife Rosemary certainly believed him when he told her he was faithful to her.”

Sammy stood up and approached the bench. “Ojection. Biased opinions of the defense counsel should be stricken from the record.”

“Sustained.” Biggs hammers the gavel. “Have you finished with this witness, Counsel.”

“Yes, your honor.”

Every eye in the courtroom seems to follow Ginger as she steps down and sashays up the aisle and out through the double doors behind me.

“Prosecution rests,” Sammy says.

Biggs hammers his gavel and we break for lunch.

(To be continued)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to give your comments.